The Arabia steamboat is something like what the Vasa is for European ship history (just dated a few centuries later…). The side wheeler steamboat sank in operation close to nowadays Kansas City in 1856 in the Missouri River. In the late 1980’s, a local team recovered the boat and turned it into a museum. The Arabia Steamboat Museum is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of its kind in North America.
Arabia Steamboat Museum – Location & Admission
The museum is located in the CIty Market area on the Northern part of Kansas City Downtown. Of course, there are numerous parking facilities around – but the most effective and easy way to get there is the free Kansas City Streetcar. The area is really nice to hang out and also features a couple of good places for a bite.
The museum is opening daily from 10:00 to 17:00. However, on Sundays, doors just open at noon. Additionally, the museum is closed on some public holidays. Adult admission to the Arabia Steamboat Museum is 15.50 USD for adults.
Arabia Steamboat Museum – The Visit
The museum nicely guides you through the history of the vessel This starts with a general overview of the history of the Arabia, which had hit a tree snag before it sank. I even more liked the introducing videos about the history of the recovery of the steamboat. Finally, a family joint venture of Bob Hawley and his sons Greg and David started a mission to identify the exact position and started the excavation. Some family friends helped the Hawleys, specially with pumps and heavy equipment like a heavy crane, They could recover quite a lot of original equipment and artifacts from the ship, which is now exhibited in the privately driven Arabia Steamboat Museum, which opened in 1991. Meanwhile, only David Hawley is still alive. The museum might move in the future, as there are plans that similar wrecks could be excavated and merged into one museum.
After that introductory part, you more or less visit two additional sections of the museum. The first one is simply called Treasures of the Steamboat Arabia. It displays items excavated during the mission. There are also some original parts of the machines, but overall the excavation delivered everything – from shoes, working material like hammers and nails to tableware for the luxury travelers and remains of bottles of oil and ketchup. There does not seem to be a limit in the range of items in display – and it absolutely blew my mind during my visit. There is still preservation ongoing, so that the number of items in display
The second part is a original size replica of the main deck. It is not made of original parts, but additional items, models, pictures and other material illustrates the life onboard the Arabia in this section of the museum. This section also includes the original steam engine and the tree snag which finally caused the steamship to sink. Finally, you feel the original size of the whole ship by passing the passing the restored model of the wheel of the vessel.
Arabia Steamboat Museum – Services
You enter and leave the museum through the gift shop, which is featuring items about the Arabia as well as a lot of other items related to Kansas City and the typical touristic stuff.
Arabia Steamboat Museum – My View
The story of the family members who decided to spot the wreckage of the ship is so American that it is almost kitschy. The resulting Arabia Steamboat Museum, though, is an outstanding collection. Especially due to the immense number of items, you feel all the energy the Hawleys put into the mission of their life and this museum. If you visit Kansas City, you absolutely have to visit the place. It is one of the best museums I have visited in the whole USA.
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